American composer Stephen Collins Foster, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1826, he never visited Florida, nor set eyes on the Suwannee River before his death in 1864.
But, in 1931, Josiah K. Lilly, the son of Indiana pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli K. Lilly and collector of Stephen Foster's music, wanted to develop a memorial to him. The idea was adopted by the Florida Federation of Music Clubs, Inc. and land in White Springs was donated and the park was developed. It opened in 1950.
Foster composed more than 200 songs before his death, but it was Old Folks at Home, better known as Swanee River, (Foster’s spelling), that became Florida's state song in 1935.
The song, written in 1851, is credited with starting the tourist industry in Florida. It was the most popular song published, familiar in every culture at the time, and drew millions of people from around the world seeking a glimpse of the river and the idyllic home Foster so masterfully described in the song's lyrics.
In a 2004 The New York Times article, Mr. Bullard, the school principal, said many old-time Floridians still had "Old Folks" played at their funerals, "as they're wheeling the casket out."
And Jerry Fernandez, who lingered until it was time to switch off the twinkling lights and mechanized steamboats and banjo players in the dioramas for another night, said he had learned the state song as a third grader in South Florida in the 40's and had loved it ever since.
"The people in my generation were very proud of it," said Mr. Fernandez, who drove two hours for Stephen Foster Day. "The people in this generation, I don't know where they come from, but they have no sense of the history of this place. The Florida I grew up in."
But today, some see the song as racist and are considering replacing the anthem. A contest was held last year, and "Florida — Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky," written by a South Florida elementary school music teacher, won the competition. The controversy and discussion continues among legislators.
Love to you and yours,